Why Is The BBC Paying Sky To Broadcast Its Channels?

BBCIn its current deal with Sky, the BBC pays the satellite broadcaster tens of millions of pounds each year for the privilege of being included in the Sky electronic programme guide (EPG) and broadcasting their signal through the Sky satellite bandwidth into an increasing number of UK homes. But with each Sky user paying Sky £30+ per month to receieve the channels, why is it the BBC also has to pay to be seen?

This looks like a classic case of double dipping, and whilst I am impressed by Sky’s obvious prowess in its negotiating, with the BBC being funded by the license fee and therefore effectively public owned, we as consumers should not have to pay twice for the same content. Yes the BBC’s remit is to be accessible on various channels to inform and entertain the British public, but how is it that Sky is managing to charge such high fees to broadcast ad-free content that is paid for by the British public?

In the US, Murdoch-owned Fox Networks charges cable companies to be able to rebroadcast its content in deals that are the polar opposite of the UK situation – so why is it that in the UK the BBC is paying Sky, not Sky paying the BBC? Part of it is to do with Sky being broadcast by satellite which means that it is available to even the furthest flung areas of the UK – places where BBC content should be available, but may not have been through traditional television masts, analogue or digital. Therefore, when Sky was launching Sky Digital and could offer this service, the BBC was almost obliged to be on the service giving Sky the better hand in negotiations. This situation has, however, changed.

Whilst Sky was the first digital satellite television service in the UK, and should be respected for pioneering that market and the pay-TV market in general – there is now a competitor in FreeSat. FreeSat is a digital satellite service from the BBC and ITV and runs on the same satellite service as the Sky service – meaning that everywhere that Sky reached that terrestrial television and Freeview could not, can now be reached by this service – and it is already part-owned by the BBC. The BBC, then, no longer needs to be available on Sky to reach the whole British population – something which should change the balance of power in the upcoming renegotiations on the deal.

The BBC still produces the most watched television content in the UK, and as such should be holding most the cards in renegotiating with Sky. Whilst commercial broadcasters like ITV may need to worry about any temporary loss in viewership (and therefore advertising viewers) by holding the Sky rebroadcasting deal to ransom – the BBC is paid by the license fee and as leaving the Sky EPG for a few days to show their strength of hand is an option. The volume of complaints Sky would receive if it no longer was able to show BBC content on its service would have the company changing tack and offering to stream the BBC content for free or even pay for doing so quite quickly. The BBC just needs to show its teeth.

The deal is being renegotiated by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the coming days, and he has shown his appreciation for Sky and distaste for the BBC in the past. So if you would like to see BBC license fee money being invested in new content and not going into the coffers of Rupert Murdoch and the other Sky shareholders (who have shown themselves uninterested in producing new content over the years and instead preferring to just buy it cheaply from the US after a terrestrial channel has introduced it in the UK and built the audience), then write to Mr Hunt such as via this form on Avaaz.

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